“Dance is the hidden language of the soul.” — dancer and choreographer Martha Graham
“The television, that insidious beast, that Medusa which freezes a billion people to stone every night, staring fixedly, that Siren which called and sang and promised so much and gave, after all, so little.” — writer Ray Bradbury
Sophia and I showed up at CBS Television City, where, ironically, they shoot ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.” It was the final dance-off of the season, and we were excited to see the show live. The two of us were decked out in our finest clothes, as if we were going to a reception for Queen Elizabeth. An email explicitly told us to “dress up” as if it were an elegant affair. There were others waiting to get in, dressed in the same manner — glamorous and beautiful.
Then reality struck us in the face like a bead flung off Mel B’s sequined dress. This was not a fancy event. We were not a paying audience. We were going to see the taping of a TV show, which means being treated like sheep.
First up — figuring out which line you are on.
There was the line for the “celebrities” like the Spice Girls and Ryan from All My Children (yes, Danny, we saw him!). They went in first.
There was another line for VIPs, mostly agent-looking dudes.
There was the pseudo-VIP line. These were the assistants to the agent-looking dudes.
There was the I-know-someone-but-someone-not-very-important line. This is where you would stand if your former roommate’s sister is now the makeup person on the show.
There was a “priority” line for those who didn’t get in last time, and were given a special pass this time, putting them on a line one step before the total nobodies with tickets. You see, the networks, like Southwest Airlines, overbook — even if you have a ticket — and then leave those unlucky enough standing on the street with a “priority ticket,” and walking back to the bus stop in their dresses and suits with dashed dreams of sitting next to Donny Osmond.
Everyone, except the Spice Girls, waited… and waited. A college-age production assistant with a clipboard, humorlessly checked our tickets. A homeless guy wandered along the line, looking for cans of soda left behind by ticket-holders.
Hey, ABC — why not send a warm-up guy OUTSIDE and entertain us why we wait forever? It took almost three hours from arrival to getting inside the studio. Think about how they do things at Disneyland! Sure you moved us from spot to spot like you do at the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, but where’s the music? The fun? The audience was half asleep by the time we took our seats (crammed in so you can hardly move. I’ve never seen such tiny chairs.)
Most of the public guests were women, and Sophia thought since I was a man, this would help us get a better seat, especially since I was looking good in my blue suit. She pushed me to be at the outside of the line, so the show ushers would notice me and put us in a visible spot. On TV, it looks as if the audience is filled with distinguished-looking men. In reality, the audience was 3/4 women, mostly drooling over Maxim. Some of these fans are fanatics. These are women who remember every single judge’s score since season one.
Sophia and I actually got decent seats in the second-tier VIP section, but later we realized that it is probably better to be in the balcony with the average Joes. The camera was constantly blocking our view. We were also on the wrong side of the stage. Later, when we came home, we searched for ourselves on the screen, and all we can find was a one second shot of the back of my head. We didn’t even bother to call my mother to tell her.
The real star of the show is — the editing. Everything is low-key on the set. The excitement only begins when the warm-up guy jumps up and down, giving us the Pavlovian sign to stand and cheer as if Jesus had just walked in. The minute it was commercial time, all became silent. Then, boom — screams of ecstasy! No wonder so many women in Los Angeles fake their orgasms. They must all work on TV shows, and get in the habit of showing false enthusiasm.
We cheered, we stood, we booed — everything on cue. Why did we give everyone a standing ovation, even the bad routines? Because we were told to! Why did we boo the judges when they made some intelligent, but constructive comment? I didn’t boo once. How impolite! And why does the audience have to be the toadies for the dancers?
Tom Bergeron looked pretty sullen and unfriendly during the commercial breaks, and only smiled and became witty when the camera turned on.
Finally, I had enough. I stood up and spoke my mind.
“Hey, Tom! What is this with all the fake frivolity? It’s so much more fun on TV. Here you all look bored!”
“Yes. That’s TV. Boring to make. At least this a better gig than that dumb “America’s Favorite Videos.” And since we’re shooting at CBS, we’re closer to the Farmer’s Market. I love those donuts at Bob’s.”
“And wait a minute. Who’s writing this show anyway? Don’t tell me that Bruno is coming up with those witty comments by himself?”
“Oh, uh, yeah. We are “ad-libbing” everything during the Writer’s Strike. Why? Are you a writer?”
“Well, actually I am.” I said.
“Hmmm… because I really could use someone to help me ad-libbing tonight’s lame jokes.”
“Well, I would, but I don’t want to be a scab.”
“Well, I couldn’t pay you union scale, but I could introduce you to Cheryl Burke.”
“Cheryl Burke, the hottest dancer on the show? Call me scab. You got a deal!”
Well, of course that never happened, but thinking about it kept me amused while waiting in line.
On the way home, Sophia and I stopped at the 99 cent only store to pick up some batteries. I wish we had taken pictures. It must have looked funny as we walked down the aisles of cheap detergent in our best clothing. When we went to pay, the checkout girl gave us the once over, and asked us if we are coming back from “our prom.” That was the best part of the night.